Ray Audette's "NeanderThin"
and other "Paleolithic" diets
What is your response to Ray Audette's "NeanderThin" and other "Paleolithic"
diets? Such programs claim that the appropriate diet for humans
includes only those foods available to Paleolithic man (meat and
wild fruits, nuts and veggies). They claim that grains and beans
are not natural foods for humans and that consumption of these foods
causes diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease, etc.. The author
claims to have cured himself of arthritis and diabetes on such a
diet. If you have already answered this or a similar question, or
can recommend another forum where I may find the answer, please
let me know.
Thanks for your question.
My sense of Ray Audette is that he is a well-meaning and intelligent
man who writes well, and who is almost completely ignorant of what
has been learned in medical research regarding diet and health.
His book has no footnotes, so there is no way to verify or substantiate
the research that he says provides supporting documentation.
Central to Audette's views is his belief that we are natural meat-eaters.
If you think there is validity to his argument, then I would ask
you to consider a simple experiment. The next time you see a deer
or wildebeest, see if you can run it down, jump up on its back,
and dig your teeth into its hide. I think that you would discover
several things. You'd probably find out that you don't have a lot
of desire to do this. Even if you tried, though, you'd probably
find that you can't run fast enough or jump high enough to manage
the task. And even if you could, you'd find that your mouth doesn't
open very wide, and your canine teeth aren't very long or very sharp
or very hard. And even if you could bite off a piece, I think you'd
find yourself quite displeased with the result.
I believe you'd find that you really aren't anatomically equipped
to hunt down and eat raw meat. In this regard I think you'd find
yourself decidedly inferior to the natural carnivores. For instance,
Have you ever seen a cat yawn? Have you noticed how wide their mouths
can open? And how long and sharp are their canine (or feline?) teeth?
Cats are designed for hunting and they are true carnivores. Our
teeth and jaws, in contrast, are much more like those of rabbits,
deer, or horses. Our canine teeth are vestigial and are hardly longer
than our molars.
Here's another test, to see if you are a natural meat-eater. Can
you move your lower jaw forward and back? Can you slide your lower
teeth in front of your upper teeth, and then back? And can you move
your lower jaw left and right, side to side? Because if you can
perform these movements, then you are not a carnivore. There is
not a true carnivore on the planet that can do either of those movements.
Dogs can't, cats can't, hyenas can't, minks can't, etc.. Their jaws
are simple hinges and can only move up and down. They are designed
to rip off hunks of flesh, and then to swallow them more or less
whole (ever noticed how fast a dog or cat eats?). Their teeth are
far harder, longer and sharper than ours. In contrast, the jaws
and teeth of herbivores (horses, cows, rabbits, etc.) are designed
for grinding plant matter. Carnivores devour, herbivores graze.
Human beings, obviously, are omnivorous, but I believe that when
it comes to eating we have far more anatomical characteristics in
common with herbivores than with carnivores. Do you feel better
when you wolf down your food, or when you eat leisurely and with
relaxation? Which is more appealing and inviting to you, a slaughterhouse
or a fruit orchard?
The stomachs of natural meat eaters secrete levels of hydrochloric
acid that are capable of dissolving raw meat and bone. The levels
of hydrochloric acid in the human stomach are miniscule in comparison.
If you were to swallow a capsule containing the digestive secretions
of a cat, the contents of that capsule would be so acidic that they
would almost instantly ulcerate the lining of your stomach.
Audette and other advocates of "Paleolithic diets" say that our
ancestors were heavy meat eaters. Is this true? Not according to
paleontologist Richard Leakey, who is widely acknowledged as one
of the world's foremost experts on the evolution of the human diet.
Leakey points out, "You can't tear flesh by hand, you can't tear
hide by hand. Our anterior teeth are not suited for tearing flesh
or hide. We don't have large canine teeth, and we wouldn't have
been able to deal with food sources that required those large canines."
In fact, says Leakey, even if cavemen had large canine teeth, they
still almost certainly would only rarely have eaten meat. Their
diet would have been similar to that of our closest genetic relative
- the chimpanzee.
Molecular biologists and geneticists have compared proteins, DNA,
and the whole spectrum of biological features, and have established
convincingly that humans are closer to chimpanzees than horses are
to donkeys. This is remarkable, because horses and donkeys can mate
and reproduce, although their offspring, mules, are sterile. A significant
difference between humans and chimpanzees, though, is that chimpanzees
have large canine teeth that can tear apart their prey, and they
have more strength and speed than humans. Still, even with these
traits, which would be advantages for a meat-eater, chimpanzees,
like other primates, eat a mainly vegetarian diet. Dr. Jane Goodall,
whose work with chimpanzees represents the longest continuous field
study of any living creature in science history, says chimpanzees
often go months without eating any meat whatsoever. Indeed, she
says, "The total amount of meat consumed by a chimpanzee during
a given year will represent only a very small percentage of the
I am reminded of something Harvey Diamond once said: "You put a
baby in a crib with an apple and a rabbit. If it eats the rabbit
and plays with the apple, I'll buy you a new car."
Audette's desire to eat more naturally is admirable. He is certainly
correct that modern food technology has created some truly unnatural
foods that undermine the health of people who consume them. He is
absolutely right that modern food technology has refined, processed,
and adulterated natural foods to the point of contributing to many
degenerative diseases. His appreciation of the dangers of dairy
products and sugar, and of refined carbohydrates such as white flour,
is commendable. The dangers of technologically tampering with our
food supply need to be far more widely understood.
But these basic and valid insights are intermixed in Audette's theories
with a host of ideas that are far more dubious, and some of which
are outright bizarre. For example, his fundamental premise, to which
he returns over and again, is that you should not eat anything that
you could not eat "naked and with a sharp stick on the African savanna…
To see how this primeval grassland (African savannas) appeared all
we need to do is look at any lawn of golf course." So much for the
complex ecological realities of African savannas.
Audette's diet is heavily meat based. This emphasis on meat, he
says, is natural. "My definition of nature," he says, "is the absence
of technology… I eat only those foods that would be available to
me if I were naked of all technology save that of a convenient sharp
stick or stone." Accordingly, he believes that ideally one would
eat all one's food raw. At the same time, however, he acknowledges
that "meats, poultry, eggs and seafood are prone to contamination
and should be cooked enough to sterilize them." This puts Audette
in a bind. He sees that animal products carry extremely dangerous
pathogens such as E. coli 0157:H7, salmonella, trichinosis, Listeria,
and campylobacter. How to resolve this dilemma with his ideal of
eating everything raw? Audette's answer is remarkable, coming as
it does from an author whose entire program is based squarely upon
eating only those foods that don't require technology for their
production, preparation, or consumption.
"Irradiated foods," he says "will eliminate this risk and make steak
tartar and raw eggs much more possible."
When it comes to grasping the functioning of the human intestinal
tract seems, some of the things Audette says are, frankly, out to
lunch. "The hunter-gatherer's miracle food, pemmican (equal parts
raw, dehydrated, powdered red meat and tallow - rendered animal
fat), makes practicing the NeanderThin program easy," he writes.
"If eaten exclusively, a small amount per day will sustain you indefinitely
without vitamin or mineral deficiencies…. It produces no waste…
Pemmican is almost totally absorbed by the body. Very little waste
remains from its digestion. As such pemmican is an excellent first
solid food for infants, and a good choice for anyone suffering from
a gastrointestinal disorder." Actually, exclusive dependence on
such a food would create gross deficiencies in vitamin C and many
other essential nutrients. And a food that "is almost totally absorbed
by the body" and "produces no waste" would be a good choice for
anyone wishing to experience constipation.
Audette's understanding of obesity issues similarly seems to be
missing in action. "Overweight people," he says, "eat significantly
less than lean persons do…. Fat is good for you."
Audette says that you should never eat grains, beans, or potatoes.
In fact, his admonition never to eat these foods is fundamental
to what he calls his "Ten Commandments." Calling his advice by such
a Biblical term may provide the appearance of grandeur and importance,
but it does not make his counsel any more valid or healthful. He
says repeatedly that human beings are not designed to eat grains,
beans, or potatoes. But these foods have been the primary source
of food energy for the human race for many centuries. Today they
account for the satisfaction of 70% of our species' energy needs.
On the other hand, the meats he is saying to eat are (along with
dairy products) the chief sources of saturated fat and cholesterol
in the human diet, the principal causes of heart disease, and the
primary carriers of food-borne disease.
Modern meat is a far cry from the flesh of Paleolithic animals.
For example, chickens raised for meat traditionally took twenty-one
weeks to reach 4-pound market weight. But today, with the birds
having been systematically bred for rapid weight gain, it takes
only seven weeks for them to reach the same weight. One not-so-slight
problem with this is that those chickens who are used for breeding
must be kept under severe food restriction - otherwise they rapidly
become too obese to reproduce.
Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, recommends that more than
half your diet should be meat and fish, and then goes on to say
"the mainstays of the Paleo Diet are the lean meats, organ meats,
and fish and seafood that are available at your local supermarket…
Turkey breast is one of the best and cheapest sources of very lean
meat…and fortunately, it's available almost everywhere."
Well, yes, turkey breasts are available at almost every supermarket,
and yes their breasts are low in fat, but it is hard for me to grasp
how authors recommending that we go back to eating the way they
say our ancestors did can recommend such a product.
Turkeys today are far from the wild birds of yore. For one thing,
thanks to a host of technological manipulations, they grow so fast
that they literally find it impossible to mate naturally. By the
time they reach reproductive age they are literally so obese that
they simply cannot get close enough to physically manage. As a result,
all 300 million turkeys born annually in the United States every
year are the result of an act of artificial insemination.
(How, you may wonder, is this done? Suffice it to say that there
are people who have become adept at handling male turkeys in just
the right way. The procedure is called-with delicacy but without
anatomical accuracy-"abdominal massage." After the semen is thus
collected, and then mixed with a myriad of chemicals, there are
other "experts" whose job it is to inject the material into the
females, using an implement that looks, rather ironically, remarkably
like a turkey baster.)
Each year at Thanksgiving, the U.S. president and vice president
pardon a turkey and a vice turkey. This is a nice gesture, but after
the turkeys are sent to a small farm, within a few months they die
from heart attacks or lung collapse because their hearts and lungs
can't support the ever increasing bulk. A farm journal noted that
"If a seven-pound human baby grew at the same rate that today's
turkeys grow, when the baby reached 18 weeks of age it would weigh
There may be some individuals who - by dint of their unique biochemical
individuality - do well on a diet that avoids grains, beans and/or
potatoes. If you want to experiment by not eating these foods for
a time to see what happens and how you feel, all power to you. But
I believe it is the rare person who will find that cereal grains
and legumes are the health disaster they are said to be by the authors
of these diet books.
For the vast majority of people, I am afraid that diets which are
so very heavy on animal protein will lead to constipation, increased
risks for heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and many other